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The origin of the middle-finger gesture is interesting. It comes from a gesture made by medieval archers. Let me explain. Medieval archers used the long bow, and to pull the string back required the strength of both the middle finger and the index finger. The main strength, though, came from the middle one. Try it, and you'll see. Now, when, during the Hundred Years War, for example, the English wanted to show how many archers they had killed during a battle, they would first go about the field cutting off the middle fingers of the dead archers, or, as the case might be, those archers injured but still alive and considered a future threat. They knew that cutting off the middle finger was enough. Without that one, the index finger would be useless. Therefore, when an archer wanted to threaten or taunt the opposing army before the start of a battle, he would hold up his middle finger from across the field as if to say, "Hah, hah! I still have what I need to put an arrow through your heart!" The so-called "peace sign" originates from the same gesture, although some would argue it comes from the shape of a dove's toes. But remember, the "V" sign was being made long before the peaceniks were using it: Churchill used it to mean "Victory!" He was making it correctly, for his two fingers hearkened back to the medieval gesture: some archers, remember, would hold up both their fingers--if they still had both. It is ironic that those who put up two fingers to indicate a peaceful intent are actually threatening the lives--they do not know this, of course, of those they are gesturing at.

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Giving someone "the finger" is one of the basest violations in modern culture, but its origins date back over 2500 years. The first written record of the insult occurred in ancient Greece, where the playwright Aristophanes made a crude joke mixing up the middle finger and the penis. Even back then, the bird was considered an aggressive, phallic put-down.


It has been argued by anthropologists that the finger is a a variant of a classic "phallic aggressive" gesture used by primates. By jabbing a threatening phallus at your enemy like a wild animal, you aren't just belittling him, but also making him your sexual inferior. Instead of using a real penis, civilized Janes and Platos called upon the substitute wieners within their own hands to mock, threaten, and humiliate opponents. And boy, did it.


When the Romans imported the art, music, and culture of the Greeks, the finger came along, too. The digitus infamis or digitus impudicus (infamous or indecent finger) is mentioned several times in the literature of ancient Rome. From the epigrammatist Martial: "Laugh loudly, Sextillus, when someone calls you a queen and put your middle finger out." (The verse continues: "But you are no sodomite nor fornicator either, Sextillus, nor is Vetustina's hot mouth your fancy." Martial, and Roman poets in general, could be pretty out there, subject-matter-wise. Another verse begins: "You love to be sodomized, Papylus...") In another reference Martial writes that a certain party "points a finger, an indecent one, at" some other people.

The historian Suetonius, writing about Augustus Caesar, says the emperor "expelled [the entertainer] Pylades...because when a spectator started to hiss, he called the attention of the whole audience to him with an obscene movement of his middle finger." The mad emperor Caligula, as an insult, would extend his middle finger for supplicants to kiss. One of his subjects, Cassius, who Caligula often taunted as being too effeminate, finally had enough humiliation and assassinated him. Clearly, the bird was not to be taken lightly.


Stories are still told about the gesture originating from a French threat to amputate the fingers of English archers. These stories are a complete fabrication originating in the late 20th Century. Furthermore, the middle-finger gesture was almost completely unknown in Britain before the 1960s, where a two-finger gesture is preferred. Again, this gesture does not have its origins in the 100 Years War. Similarly, there is no truth in the myth that "the bird" refers to the feathers of English arrows.


In 1644, John Bulwer wrote Chirologica: of the Naturall Language of the Hande as a guide to common hand signals for the deaf. The finger, or convicium facio (meaning, I provoke an argument) was a "natural expression of scorn and contempt." Although he thought it was horrid to use, the deaf might have had no better way to express themselves after someone dumped the contents of a chamber pot on them in the street.


During the Middle Ages, the finger went underground. It was still known, but the Catholic Church frowned upon its use, as the middle finger was supposed to be holy in the Mass. The unholy insult lurked deep within the hearts of filthy-minded folks everywhere, hiding from sight until the 19th century when it began to crop up again thanks to a new invention - Photography.


In 1886, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn slipped his little finger fastball into the Boston Beaneaters team picture. The split-second art of photography could turn the once-boring painted portrait into a spontaneous work of rebellion, humor and spunk. Americans everywhere quickly got into the act.


In the polyglot, immigrant mish-mash of early 20th century America, the finger was the one symbol every man, woman and dog could understand. With the invention of the automobile, it could be delivered from behind the safety of glass & steel, and at great speeds. All the finger needs to deliver its punch is a clear line of sight.

Throughout the 20th century, the finger has penetrated all levels of society. Roughhewn farmers did it, hippies did it, and even the Vice President of the United States got into the act. At a campaign stop for Senator Bob Dole in 1976, Nelson Rockefeller was heckled by protesters telling him what they thought of his Vietnam war policy by casting their middle finger votes. Never one to back down, Rocky just flipped it right back. Considering the Vice-president of the USA could flip off with impunity, it is no surprise that only a few months later, an appellate court in Connecticut ruled the finger was not legally obscene, releasing it from its gilded cage.


With the new millennium, we can rest assured this once endangered bird is thriving. Today it appears in films, books, school yards, and most recently, network television (on "NYPD Blue"). Instead of shunning this "obscene" gesture, we must treasure its rich cultural heritage. We are living in the Golden Age of The Finger. Get used to it. Do not imagine for a moment that the Finger will allow itself to be co-opted. It is no mere catch-phrase to be researched, quantified and catalogued for commercial use. It is a threat, a mantra, a way of being that comes directly from the base of the hypothalamus directly to the last digit of your thrusting destiny

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The middle finger had originated in the middle ages, somewhere form the war between France and England. In the war, the knighthood became forgotten, because they became too useless in the war, after the longbows were invented and they pierced through the knight armor. So instead of buying super expensive knights, they bought super cheap peasants that were taught to wield a bow. In those battles, the other army would chop off their middle fingers, so they wont be able to wield the bow and arrow ever again. But however, when the team won, they would stick their middle finger to the other team, not a medieval way to say the F word to them, but to show that they could still fight, and they still had their fingers. I learned this stuff from my social studies teacher who likes to make jokes.

*cough* Mr. Severa. Oh, and this answer was published at 2/28/2012

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Q: Where did the middle finger gesture come from?
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Related questions

What does the middle finger mean?

It is an inappropriate gesture.

How come sticking up your pinkie finger is the middle finger in china?

Every country has a different hand gesture to mean that vulgar phrase! This just happens to be the finger that became "popular" in China, while the middle one is used in America.

How do you write a sentence using the word gesture?

I wanted to scream when the woman behind me gave me a rude gesture with her middle finger.

What is the name of your middle finger?

The middle finger is simply called the middle finger. It is also commonly known as the "bird" or "birdie" finger when used in a gesture to express anger or defiance.

What does it mean when you hold up your middle finger only?

It is a rude gesture suggesting fornication.

What does twisting your middle finger and ring finger mean?

Twisting your middle finger and ring finger is not a commonly recognized hand gesture with a specific meaning. In some cultural contexts, it could be a gesture of frustration or irritation, but it is not universally understood in this way. It is important to consider cultural differences when interpreting gestures.

What does pinky finger mean in Chinese?

Supposedly, it is to them what one would think of the middle finger in the United States... a vulgar hand gesture.

Can you point a middle finger gesture?

you get 2 nights in the slamer

What does it mean when you stick your tongue between your pointer and your middle finger?

Sticking your tongue between your pointer and middle finger is a gesture known as "making a rude or obscene gesture" or "giving the middle finger." It is considered offensive or disrespectful in many cultures and is often used to express anger, frustration, or contempt towards someone. It is important to be aware of cultural norms and avoid making this gesture to prevent any misunderstandings or negative reactions.

What is the symbolism of a middle finger?

A middle finger gesture is commonly seen as a rude or vulgar expression conveying anger, defiance, or contempt towards someone. It symbolizes disrespect and is considered offensive in many cultures and settings.

Is bending your index finger a gay gesture?

No. In fact, there is actually no such thing as a gay gesture.

Who first gave someone the middle finger?

The origin of giving someone "the finger" came from back when bow and arrows were used in wars, prisoners would get there middle fingers chopped of because back then soldiers only used their middle finger to pull back the bow. As a pride thing the other side would hold up their middle finger to taunt the enemy. It wasn't until later that the gesture evolved into what it is today.